The aspirational icon that is Colnago's Master first came into contact with this tester via the 1986 Bicycle Buyer’s Guide. It was the most expensive bike in there – and justified that cost easily with its opulence.
Let's not mince words here. I was more excited to try this bike than any I can remember in a long time.
Frame and equipment: 30 years of class, dressed impeccably
The giddy expectation didn’t ease when unboxing revealed a beautifully judged build kit from importer Windwave, which teamed Campagnolo’s latest Chorus 22-speed stop/go equipment with a retro Selle Italia suede saddle. Even the machined facets on the Vision TriMax 30 rims sync with the flat faces of the Master’s signature cross section Columbus tubing.
It’s the frame, with its 30-year history, that’s the star here though. The tubeset is joined via separate ornately shaped lugs or socket sections. The ones connecting the head tube to the down tube and top tube are chromed and inset with Colnago’s cloverleaf logo to match the chromed, tapered leg Precisa stiletto fork.
The Precisa fork sports Colnago’s cloverleaf logo
The middle sections of the slim rear stays are also immaculately chromed. The whole frame is perfectly aligned so you only need to touch the wheel positioning screws in the rear dropouts if you want to sneak the rear wheel even closer to the seat tube on the already short rear end.
Crowning the constructional glory on our sample is one of four different base colour versions of Colnago’s Art Deco livery. It’s a stunning mix of stencils, airbrush fades, rich blocks and freestyle metallic flake detailing that somehow works perfectly in the Colnago context whether you remember it from childhood or it’s totally new to you.
If this all sounds a bit flamboyant, there are retro Mapei team hues, the classic white panel on red livery of Italian 1982 World Champion Giuseppe Saronni or just a white and chrome option. A vast range of sizes in 1cm gaps from 49-65cm should see most riders find a fit.
Ride and handling: superb descender that won't be rushed back uphill
The fit of the Colnago is as much of its time as the construction and style. The Master is stretched long and low over steep steering and seat angles. While it looks fragile the ultra-tapered Stiletto fork is anything but, skewering the road with authority considering the inch diameter steerer, skinny head-tube and frame tubes connecting it to the rest of the bike.
Those slim tubes glue the back end onto the tarmac with equal tenacity, with the 25mm rubber and angular Vision rims adding more adhesion and accuracy. Add the long, low position and the Master descends like a hawk even on technical descents, begging you to add gears rather than back off.
On the downhills, the Master X-Light demands you push it; but it won't be bullied back up
While it’s a match for the latest bikes on descents, accelerating and climbing requires a more deft touch. Stomp rudely on the pedals or heave the bar and it responds with the speed sucking stubbornness you’d expect if you tried to bully an old Italian.
But squeeze power forwards from a rearward saddle position and the sense of sticky brakes and rubber chain is replaced with a steady surge of speed that’s sustained whatever the road underneath you. Pushing weight back and riding light on the front also reduces the hammer from the fork.
This is a bike that rewards you if you respect it and where time you spend aboard is a bonus, not something to be hurried.
Price for frameset: US$2,799 / €2,400 / AU$3,850